Asbestos is known by many people as a “silent killer”, because exposure to large quantities of these naturally-occurring silicate materials will eventually lead to mesothelioma, a type of cancer which affects the natural lining of your body’s internal organs.
Image by Aaron Suggs (via Flickr).
Used in hundreds of thousands of different products since the latter half of the 19th century until the late 1980s, asbestos was often used for its insulation properties by the construction industry, and was also used as an insulator for electrical wiring.
Thankfully, asbestos has been mostly banned since 1989 in the United States (I say mostly, because there are certain items that the Environmental Protection Agency have said are allowed to have trace amounts of asbestos). In contrast, nations such as the United Kingdom have banned asbestos in its entirety.
Whilst the risks of new buildings such as homes and offices having asbestos within them are pretty slim, buildings that have been constructed prior to the nationwide ban of asbestos may still contain some materials that have asbestos in them, and this is where the risk mainly lies.
If you are concerned about being exposed to asbestos, here are some practical tips that you should read to help you lower your risk to being exposed to this silent killer.
The first thing you should do is make sure that you have been trained to safely work with asbestos, or in the least, have a thorough understanding of what asbestos is and how to avoid disturbing any materials that may contain it.
According to Bergman Draper Ladenburg, a mesothelioma lawyer, employers are required to ensure that their workers participate in a training program if they are going to be regularly exposed to asbestos fiber levels that exceed the maximum permissible limit, as prescribed by the OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration).
Raise concerns with your supervisor or manager
If you have concerns that you are working with materials that may potentially contain harmful asbestos fibers, you need to stop your work and raise those concerns with your site supervisor or manager.
They have a duty to ensure that you (and your work colleagues) are not unnecessarily exposed to asbestos
Use appropriate equipment for personal protection
When working with materials that may (or do) contain asbestos, it is important that you use appropriate equipment to maintain your own personal protection, such as breathing apparatus, overalls and so on. It goes without saying that the equipment and materials you use must be clean and in good working order.
Your employer will advise you on what you should be doing to maintain your personal protection, alternatively you can contact the OSHA for help and guidance on the matter.
Don’t disturb asbestos materials if possible
In most cases if the materials containing asbestos are in good condition, it is better to leave them in-situ and seal them, making a note of their location in case any further construction or renovation work needs to take place in that area in the future.
If any materials are damaged, the appropriate precautions should be taken for their safe disposal.